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Julian Wiles, Founder and Producing Artistic Director
Marybeth Clark, Associate Artistic Director

November 12, 2009

Amanda Wansa, Musical Director of Christmas Carol

Filed under: Back Stage Blog — julianw @ 2:22 pm

Q: How did you select which classic carols to include in your design?

The Charleston Stage Christmas Carol is unique because it’s a classic tale that’s revamped every year by our very own in-house playwright.  Audiences are familiar with the story, but are able to enjoy new twists and takes on the piece every year.  This is also true with the music.  Some of the carols have been used in the story for years and seem to work very well.  In addition to updating the arrangements of carols sung throughout, I was responsible for arranging a new opening, closing, and mid-show dance number (Formerly This Will Be My Dancing Day).  In order to do this, I met with Julian and we talked about what’s happening in the play at that point and what kind of mood or feeling we needed to evoke.   With choreographer Lindsey Lamb, we sit down and talk about approximately how long each piece should be, how much should be sung versus how much should be danced, and how long each introduction and closing should be.  Based on this, along with different versions of each carol that I had to research, find, and put into a portfolio, I arrange a piano version of the piece for them to listen to and give feedback.  Sometimes we all agree that the first try hits the spot and sometimes (more often!) revision is needed.  Julian will use descriptive adjectives to help me tweak pieces to fit the scene.  He’ll say, “Can it get faster here?  More like a jig?” or “Can the music swell here because they will be dancing around?”  Then I can go back into my editing program and make adjustments without starting over.  Then, once the music is taught to the actors, sung through, liked enough to solidify, I will create the orchestrations.

Most of my arranging experience is in the field of arranging for voices and this cast is very talented.  I was able to do some preliminary sketches of harmonies before we started rehearsals, but really created the music after hearing the singers and their abilities.  That’s a benefit of having an in-house composer.  Even now, I am still adding, cutting, and modifying harmonies and sections of songs. 

Many of the carols that didn’t make it into the show as fully staged and sung pieces will be featured in the underscore of the piece.   The editing of pre-recorded music is a totally different skill set and part of the process, but since I’m doing both, I can chose pieces that sound similar and fit into the same genre of music to create the moods we want!

I think our audience is going to love humming along to the tunes that I’ve selected, but will be excited by new arrangements that they’ve never heard before.  Breathing life into familiar songs is one of my favorite things to do, especially for the holiday season!


Performance of "This Will Be My Dancing Day" from Charleston Stage's 2008 production of Christmas Carol

Performance of "This Will Be My Dancing Day" from Charleston Stage's 2008 production of Christmas Carol

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